Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Dear Book Launch, can we be better friends?

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By Becky Toyne

If you’re a book lover with a worrying hole in your social schedule this week, odds on you can find a literary event to fill it. In fact, odds are fair to middling you’ll even find yourself double booked. Toronto is bulging with bookish celebrations, and what’s more, everyone’s invited. It’s something the city does really well, but a recent experience made me question the difference between being invited, and being included.

When I quit my day job last month to go freelance, my relationship to literary events changed. No longer was I attending as “Representative of Literary Establishment X,” but as “Becky Toyne: Book-buying Member of the Public.” I liked this new event-going me – the me who loves to read, not the me who is paid to. Off I went to something I will dub “the public book launch.”

A species somewhere between a public reading or interview and a private, if-your-name’s-not-down-you’re-not-coming-in type affair, public launches are event and party combined, with fêted author, book and well-stocked bar all in attendance. And here’s what’s so brilliant about them: if you want to go, you just turn up! You can be utterly unaffiliated with book, author or publisher, and be of no practical use in terms of supplying media coverage, but you are invited purely because you are a reader: the target market. You may know you’ll never get a rose-wrapped invitation to the Giller, but for this literary soirée, your name is firmly on the list.

So a few weeks ago, there I was at my evening book launch of choice (it beat three other options). Seated near the back of a room replete with readers, thinking how great it was that four literary events could go head-to-head on one night in Toronto and still draw such healthy crowds, I swigged my beer and waited for the onstage portion to get underway. Out came the host to address the crowd (and I am paraphrasing here, but this is the gist):

“Thanks so much to you all for coming,” Host said. “You all know [AUTHOR], of course, so he needs no introduction from me.”

“But excuuuuuse me!” I wanted to interject. “I don’t know the author. In fact, know very little about him at all. I came to this event precisely to find out about this author. I thought this event was for me, ‘Book-buying Member of the Public.’ Perhaps I am the odd one out in this crowd....”

I considered a heckle, but I am a coward, so I kept my mouth shut while various in-jokes proceeded to sail over my head.

A few days later, at another book launch in another part of town (OK, it was the same part of town, but I’m trying not to name names here), it happened again. And then again. I am no statistician, but there seemed to be a pattern emerging.

So what’s going on? Toronto is so good at staging these boundary-blurring social events. Their potential to forge literary ties between the industry insiders and those who, professionally at least, are completely unconnected is invigorating, and not to be taken for granted – I’d be hard pushed to name many similar set-ups in London, England. But while busy promoting clusters of book events, is the industry at risk of overlooking the fact that, as well as giving the author his or her moment in the spotlight, it’s creating exciting opportunities to actually break bread with some of its most powerful word-of-mouth allies?

Speaking as someone in the biz, I know my point of view isn’t entirely civilian here, but “A Book Launch!” sounds like a sexy thing I’d want to go to. You had me at “You’re invited.” Once I’m there, tell me about the author! If I’ve heard it before I’ll happily listen again, and if I haven’t... well, heck, don’t you think the reason I came in the first place was to be told? Everybody wants to hang with the in crowd, and public book launches hold the promise of just that – a chance to be arty, bookish and to hobnob with the celebrities of the scene. I am Nobody to Publishing, and yet I am Everybody to Publishing: I am the person who will buy your books! And recommend them to my friends! Include me! You did send me a Facebook invite, after all.

_____________________

Here’s a pick of the upcoming crème de la crème of public book launches to which you are all invited, and at which I am sure you will all be included, should you decide to get involved:

April 27: House of Anansi Poetry Bash
One of the very first launches I went to when I moved here from England in 2006. I thought, “This is amazing, why don’t we have these in London?!”

April 27: Toronto Literary Salon
See what I mean about being double booked? One of the hottest annual public events in the book-lovers’ calendar (above) goes head to head with the hottest new series on the scene.

April 28: Coach House Spring Launch
Another not-to-be-missed extravaganza. Coach House are good people. Watch out for the Coach House Open House and Coach House Fall launch as well.

And join the Facebook groups for The Fine Print and This is Not a Reading Series to hear about more.


Becky Toyne is a freelance editor and publicist based in Toronto. Since embarking on a career in publishing in 2002, she has worked as an editor at Random House UK and Random House of Canada; as a bookseller, event planner and publicist for Toronto’s Type Books; and as Communications Coordinator for the International Festival of Authors and Authors at Harbourfront Centre. She tweets about life in book land as @MsRebeccs.

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